The Hat Police

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

Clarence used to go around the auditorium of our church shaking hands with every single person he saw, but we all knew what his real objective was. He was the hat police. If Clarence saw some guy–women were okay–wearing any kind of head covering, he would politely but unyieldingly insist that they remove it.

Why exactly were hats verboten in church? I’m not sure, but that was then and this is now. Today, see all manner of things as I scan the church body. Some people dress to the nines, while others only get to the threes or fours. Hats are nothing these days. What would Clarence say?

I’m reminded of this as I continue reading Ecclesiastes:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to approach in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Just as dreams accompany much labor, so also a fool’s voice comes with many words.

Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

Solomon admonishes us to guard our steps. That sounds like good advice, but how exactly does one guard one’s steps? In Psalm 119:34 we read, “Help me understand your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.” That makes sense. It’s pretty hard to follow the instructions if you don’t understand them. It’s pretty hard to dress appropriately if you don’t know exactly what constitutes appropriate.

And Then There’s the Talking

Besides people wearing hats, we have all sorts of people running their mouths. I’m not talking about people blurting out corrections in the middle of the sermon. That said, I did actually approach a guy and tell him his talking was distracting a few weeks back.

When I’m talking about people running their mouths, I mean the ones who have five opinions for every one fact that they actually possess. This type tends to say something like, “You know what the church ought to do?” But when the time comes to actually make that or anything else happen, they’re nowhere to be found. When it has all been said and done, there’s been a lot more said than done!

Solomon advises us to let our words be few, but how few? How much talk is too much talk? I’m sure those who I call big mouths don’t see themselves that way, and there are probably people who want me to shut up.

Getting in Tune

Human behavior frequently is organized into a bell curve. For example, some people keep their mouths clamped shut while others never stop talking. These people exist out toward the edges of the bell curve. When we find ourselves well out of the mainstream, more than a standard deviation from the mid-point, we should probably start asking questions.

We could do the same thing when it comes to what we wear or how we react in worship or several other behaviors. If everybody in your church wears swimsuits, then a swimsuit is the thing. If yours is a suit and tie sort of group, then your Pink Floyd t-shirt is probably not the right choice.

Knowing how to guard our steps is not as difficult as it might seem in the age of the Holy Spirit. When we actively seek wisdom and discernment, when we pay attention to others who are doing the same, then we’re likely to keep our feet on the path much more often than not.

As for me, I’m still not wearing a hat, but Clarence isn’t watching any more.

Rule #5: Visualize Success

torah-scrollIn recent posts I  have been considering the individual rules, compiled by personal trainer Joel Harper and listed in an article called “Ten Rules Fit People Live By,” examining each of them in the light of Biblical teaching. You can check out Rule #4 and get to the previous ones from this link. Today, we get to examine rule #5: Visualize success. Here’s how the author explains this rule.

Harper has all of his new clients close their eyes and imagine their ideal body—both what it looks like from head to toe, and how it makes them feel. Then he tells them to go shopping: “I say to people, ‘Hey if you want that body, then buy clothes that would fit if you had it. And try them on every day until they fit.’”

How could I have known when I was ten years old that I was practicing rule #5. I went to the back yard and imagined myself coming to the plate in game 7 of the World Series. “Based loaded. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Browning hits a long one down the left field line. If it stays fair it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s a home run! The Royals win the series! Oh, the humanity!” I did that day after day, finally giving the practice up when I turned 50. How’s that for visualizing success Joel? Maybe it would have worked better if I had tried on a major league uniform every day as well.

Harper’s rule #5 is all about willing yourself into smaller clothes and a more toned body. It’s about remaking yourself, into your own ideal image and under your own steam. There might be some value in that, but it seems to me that the Bible’s teachings take a different approach.

Rather than focusing on who I want to make myself become, the Bible tends to ask me to focus on who God has delivered me from. In Psalm 40, David gives a great example:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

Harper encourages his trainees to buy the clothes they want to fit into and then squeeze themselves in until the new togs fit, yet time after time, the Bible uses clothing as a metaphor for the righteousness that God places upon us through Christ. In Isaiah 61:10

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

I’m not utterly dismissing Harper’s idea of visualizing success. However, I do believe there is more power in focusing on the negative past from which God delivered me than in the positive future to which I might be able to take myself. I’ll be more dressed for success in the garments of salvation than in the wishing wardrobe of items that don’t quite fit yet.

Fully aware of the magnitude of the sin from which I have been delivered, I can surely find motivation to keep my heart beating, my eating in check, and my sunscreen on. And if I could be closer to the fitness model that I’d like to be by following Harper’s path, then I’ll let that go in exchange for being the faithful (and fit) follower of Christ that He created me to be.

Clothes Make the Man?–Mark 1:6

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. –Mark 1:6

Standing at the checkout stand at our local Wal-Mart on the first day of deer season, I noticed two men, probably father and son, dressed from head to foot in camouflage gear. Actually, I exaggerate. Besides their various Real-Tree togs, these guys had on hunter-orange hats, a sensible way to keep from getting a 30.06 bullet headed your way from a less-than-attentive hunter. Clearly, they had been out in the deer woods that morning. Their lack of euphoria suggested to me that they’d not filled their tags just yet.

As someone who has spent several fruitless hours waiting for Bambi to stroll into the crosshairs, I don’t mention the guys at the store to mock their lack of venison. Instead, I just wanted to point out that when you dress like a deer hunter, people can generally tell that you are a deer hunter.

Apparently that’s the reasoning behind Mark’s inclusion of these details about John the Baptist’s attire. What is the well-dressed prophet wearing today? Apparently it’s a hair garment and a leather belt. We learn in 2 Kings 1:8 that Elijah not only wore such an outfit but could be identified by it.

Of course, everybody who dresses in camouflage is not a deer hunter. Everyone who dresses like a prophet is not a prophet. In order to fill out their outfits, they both need to walk the walk, actually sitting in a deer stand with a rifle at dawn or dusk, or speaking the word of the Lord. When somebody dresses up in a particular way but doesn’t live the life that accompanies the clothing, we consider that person a pretender.

What does the well-dressed Christian wear these days? There doesn’t seem to be much of a dress code when it comes to following Christ. One family in my church, a father and two sons, typically come to church wearing Christian-messaged t-shirts. While their clothing choice doesn’t make them faithful followers, it does seem to place a burden of behavior on them. If these guys show up buying a truckload of beer or robbing a store, it’ll look about as out of character as the deer hunters buying Justin Bieber posters.

The vast majority of us have not been and never will be called as God’s prophets, but we do have a calling to follow. Dressing the part does not require anything terribly specific, but acting the part cannot be optional. May our words and deeds be ones that allow others to know who we are and whose we are.


Enduring Fashion (Hebrews 1:10-12)

He also says,    “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12)

Back in the late 1990s, I spent a good bit of my professional time as a staff member and then director for my school’s Master Teachers Workshop. This annual event gathered several dozen teachers from assorted departments to share good ideas, approaches, and challenges with each other. After leading the entertainment one year, I fell into the directorship for the next three. And today, all I have to show for those years are a couple of lines on my resume and a pair of t-shirts.

Each year, at the close of the workshop, we distributed some nice long-sleeve t-shirts with a spider-web design imprinted on them. We’d wear them for our group photo and then, if we remembered, for the first day back on campus. Over the years, I accumulated seven of those shirts. Eventually, a couple of them disappeared into my daughters’ clutches. A couple of others fell apart from repeated wear and washing. Today, two of them, thin and seam-weary still hang in my closet. They’ll probably meet the rag bag in the next few months.

Our favorite garments last but a few years. Our own lives last but a few decades. Even nations seem to endure for a but a few centuries. But not Christ. Christ was old when the cannons fired on Fort Sumter provoking the Civil War. He was ancient when the pilgrims stepped ashore at Plymouth. When William the Conqueror took control of England in 1066, Christ had been around for–for–well, forever.

Let us not put our trust in our clothes unless they are the robes of righteousness provided by the eternal one. Our trust, if it is at all meaningful, lies in what cannot and will not end.

Going to a Costume Party?

Last week, I accompanied Penny and the two younger kids to the mall for a bout of clothes shopping. Since fathers in the clothes-shopping process are only slightly less useful than they are during labor and delivery, I spent the bulk of those hours leaning on clothes racks and gawking at the store’s wares.

Browse through the typical, under-twenty-oriented clothing stores–Pac-Sun, Hot Topic, Rue 21, and the like–I came to a simple conclusion. The vast majority of the clothes marketed to young people are freakish, impractical things. We have jeans that look as if they’ve been dragged behind a car for ten miles, acid-washed, stone-washed, pre-faded, pre-wrinkled, pre-ripped and more. I saw jeans made for young men with a 32-inch waist but sporting a 40-inch waistband so that their pants could ride down around mid-thigh. The clothes for young women are even worse. Most of them look like they should be worn by masochistic street-walkers. They have high heels that amount to supported toe shoes.

Let’s be fair, though. When I was a kid, we wore some pretty goofy stuff. I remember, particularly, the fad for overly ornate blue jeans, including ones pieced together from 4-inch-square hunks of denim. We wore t-shirts printed with stupid things every bit of inane as what the kids today seek after. Previous generations wore poodle skirts and zoot suits, so where’s my beef?

The thing about the clothing that I saw last week that seems different from the clothing of years past is that kids today just can’t function very well in their clothes. Buy pink jeans if you want, but buy jeans that will allow you to carry bags of groceries, climb a ladder, and–try this in sagging jeans–run.

Too many young people–and not-so-young people–today feel that listening to an iPod, texting, or keeping up with Facebook are the sort of meaningful activities that ought to dictate how you dress. Why wear lace-up shoes when flip-flops will do the job? Why worry about the fit of your jeans when you rarely don’t have a hand free to hold your jeans up? Why not dress like a hooker when you can’t see yourself doing anything more meaningful with your life?

They say that clothes make the man. I don’t entirely believe that, but I do believe that clothes say a good deal about the man or the woman. They say things about our self-image and about the activities we think might confront us in the course of the day. Dress in a way that makes you happy if you like, but dress in a way that won’t keep you from being the meaningful things that you’re created to be.